Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Writer: James V Hart (Screenplay) based on the novel by Bram Stoker
Featuring: Gary Oldman, Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Cary Elwes, Richard E Grant, Billy Campbell, Sadie Frost, Tom Waits
Jonathan Harker a young and upcoming lawyer is sent to Transylvania to see to the estate of Count Dracula and assist in his buying of properties in London. Unbeknown to Harker Dracula is a centuries old vampire that feasts on the surrounding countryside’s villagers and after seeing an image of Harker’s betroythed, Mina, who seems to be a reincarnation of his long-lost beloved Elisbeta, he determines to get to London and reunite with her in immortality.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula was made in 1992 and certainly it holds up on this viewing in 2019, the first time, I’ve watched the film in a long, long, time.
Firstly the film couldn’t be called Dracula because the rights to it were difficult/impossible to get, much like Jeff Wayne and War of the Worlds, and secondly it seems to follow the original novel by Bram Stoker but also it does not. There was no ‘human’ Dracul in the novel and he certainly wasn’t dressed in Star Wars-style armour but nevertheless this does set the film up give the titular vampire a motivation and allows the viewer to understand where he is coming from, making him more sympathetic. Stoker’s original Dracula was not in the slightest sympathetic if my memory serves me correctly. He was a monster.
Gary Oldman, who is is not afraid of chewing some scenery from time-to-time, has a rare old time playing Dracula which in the film is essentially three roles. The early real man who defends his home country and loves Elisabeta but is devastated by the church condemning her to hell with her suicide with such ferocity he becomes the monster of the story by force of will and the condemnation of God, I suppose, then he plays the coffiureed eccentric ‘old’ count in Transylvania and finally the young infatuated count of London. All the same character but all different from each other too and he does a great believable job.
The supporting cast are all good with Keanu Reeves accent coming in for some fierce criticism down the years but it really was not that bad – only in the ‘mealtime at the pub’ scene it tipped over from passable to ‘What???’ Hard to believe that what featured in the film was the best take. Antony Hopkins hams it up as Van Helsing but I felt it was within the remit of the film which although gothic was clearly directed by Coppola with broad strokes and the actors seem to have been given a certain amount of leeway with some of the decisions taken in certain scenes. A young Richard E Grant, who I confess I entirely forgot was in the film, starts off like a comedy relief, then turns to a tortured drug-addict and ends with a bizzare insert near the end where he is pretending to ride full-steam ahead on a horse and yells ‘Charge!!!’ It’s all good fun.
Funnily enough it is the supporting cast of characters that are definitely given more to do in this film. The Harker ‘Scooby Gang’ are all here, the aforemention Grant being perhaps Shaggy and the others following, the two female leads, whilst given less to do aquit themselves well with Ryder showing the conflict in Lucy and the Dracula’s evil charisma draws her in. Lucy is played with great verve by Sadie Frost as she seemed to enjoy vamping it up and then literally vamping it up. Tom Waits is great as Renfield all twisted mind and body and Cary Elewes and Billy Simpson are well cast in their supporting roles as the stiff-upper-lip Englishman and free-spirited new money ‘Yank’. One thing that does stand out is when the chips are down all of these different characters come together to vanquish the greater evil, no one is working against the group they are proper ‘friends’, sounds a bit daft to say but unusual in films nowadays when the artifice of drama can intrude on interesting storylines.
The tropes and idiosciracies of Coppola direction are there if you look, Dracula’s eyes hovering over all in the cloudy skies is very One From the Heart the film has an older feel to it due to Coppola insisting that no digital effects be use so in-camera and on-set techniques were used throughout the film, the rat-transformation scene is amazing considering and the film is none the worse for this idea from the director.
Overall the costumes, gloriously over-the-top at times, set designs and effects certainly complement the film and the style of the film and as Coppola was instrumental and apparently strongly assertive on this image he has to take the credit for this, afterall directors/film-makers are quickly blamed for the slightest wobble in most films.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is far from perfect but looking back 27 years after it was released some of the contempary criticism seems a bit churlish, now the director’s vision and idea of his Dracula comes across clearly and whether you like it or not he seems to have hit most of the targets he set. The acting is over-the-top at times, even perhaps ‘hammy’ but it suits the story and the film.
This Dracula is a good Dracula. Give it another go see what you think.